Customer Expectations: The Tool You Didn’t Know You Had
Expectations tell a story of what your customer experience will be, regardless of what the experience actually is. However, the difference between the two will often determine if customers are satisfied with your business or if they find it wanting. This is why a cheap roadside motel will sometimes have better reviews than a luxury resort – it doesn’t matter how posh the bedding is, if the in-room jacuzzi is broke: 1 star.
Expectations even affect presidential politics. Remember this from 2012? (Source)
Customers start with their own set of expectations, often times set by the stories they hear from their friends and family. This expectation is then altered by their experience with your advertising, website, with booking their first appointment, and interacting with reception. We’ve already talked about a number of these things in recent blog posts, but today we’re focused on how you can make expectations work for you, rather than against you.
It’s all about how you package it
Your advertising, your website, and the appointment booking process are all a part of your service’s packaging. It’s what customers metaphorically unwrap before getting to the main event. In the same way that big companies like Apple pour tons of resources into their packaging, it’s worthwhile for you to do the same with your customer experience. Apple goes so far as to employ specialists whose sole purpose is to open boxes all day. And it works, too. Regardless of how you feel about Apple and their products, getting one of their new devices is a zen-like experience in symmetry and clean lines.
Before you even start using it. (Source)
Apple’s packaging telegraphs the quality of the product inside. Based on handling the box alone, you can make a judgment on the durability and user-friendliness of the device without ever having booted it up. And of course, all of this generates the impression of a product that’s worth its weight in gold – and thereby encourages a willingness to pay a high price tag. This is one of the reasons why Apple can get away with charging exorbitant prices despite competitor phones offering the same level of functionality.
A semblance of form and cost
Does this mean you can drop a couple thousand on a polished website and start charging double for your services? On the contrary, no it does not. All it means is that customers are willing to pay for a higher quality product if the external packaging matches that level of quality, and sets their expectations accordingly. It’s the same as the roadside motel vs. luxury resort problem that we introduced at the beginning of the article. If you want things to work out as best they can, the expectations you set should match the quality of your service.
In other words, don’t over-promise and under-deliver. But also, don’t under-promise and over-deliver. Lowered expectations reduce the perceived cost of the service and therefore reduces what customers are willing to pay for it. Imagine if Apple packaged their iPhone in a plain cardboard box, merely for the benefit of being able to exceed a lower-set expectation. Sales would stall and the price tag would have to come down too. The box is part of the product, and your advertising, website, appointment booking, etc. is part of your service.
Setting the right expectations
The first and simplest thing is to be honest. I can’t write a post about expectations and not bring this up. Your advertising should be cautious around using hyperbole, and also make it clear what exactly you’re offering. Take poetic license too far and customers may accuse you of lying. The next step is to realize that most businesses and organizations (like yours) have a website that hasn’t yet been optimized to set the right expectations. This is where you should do an audit for things like usability and typos, and solicit second opinions from people with technical chops.
We’ve written a number of blog posts to help guide you through this process. These things seem obvious – your website should display information clearly and make it easy to find pricing and contact info – but it’s important to recognize that they telegraph your service’s quality to potential customers. A difficult-to-navigate website may tell customers that dealing with your staff could also be difficult.
The first 5 minutes is your last chance
As we mentioned at the beginning of this post, customers start with a baseline of expectations that carry over from their social referrals. And sometimes these expectations may be blown out of proportion, and the customer may expect you to deliver the world. When this happens, your last chance to course-correct takes place in the first five minutes of the appointment. This is when it’s critical to do the following:
- Find out what the customer knows. Ask questions like “So how did you hear about us?” If they say a friend referred them, ask them what that friend’s experience was like – good or bad. If they came to you from a Google search, there’s a good chance they saw your website, so you’ll know what information they’re basing their expectations on.
- Find out what the customer’s priorities are. If they come in asking for a specific service, try to pinpoint what their goal is and why they think that service will help them get there. Sometimes there’s a different service that better meets their needs.
- Explain each step in the process. Also explain how these steps will add up to the final outcome. As stated in the previous blog post, use the power of explanations to inspire confidence and let the customer contribute to and own the final outcome.
Expectations are a moving target
Your service never stays the same. Every successful appointment gives your staff more practice and more insights. Customer priorities change. Your website and advertising get updated regularly (you are updating them, right?). Over time these culminate as tectonic shifts in what your business is capable of providing to customers.
And so we leave you with this parting wisdom. You don’t just set expectations and forget about them. They need periodic re-evaluation to keep pace with your service offering. Ask yourself how has your business improved over the last year, what are you more efficient at, and how have customer needs evolved. Having a mind for these matters is the key towards effective expectation-setting and more satisfied customers, regardless if you wear blue overalls, deliver white-glove service, or both.
-The Setmore Team
When was the last time a service completely met your expectations? Let us know in a comment below!